Toppled in a 1999 coup, jailed and exiled, Nawaz Sharif looks set for a third term in office as Pakistan’s prime minister.
While votes from Saturday’s general elections were still being counted, Sharif declared victory at the headquarters of his centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
According to preliminary results, the wealthy steel magnate from Punjab province held off a challenge from former cricket star Imran Khan who had hoped to break decades of dominance by Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
The 63-year-old has promised to transform the country’s economy, end corruption in state-owned enterprises, build a motorway from Lahore to Karachi, Pakistan’s business capital, and launch a bullet train.
Prime minister twice already, from 1990 to 1993, and from 1997 to 1999, but softly spoken and shy with the international media, Sharif is considered a pragmatist in the West despite comments opposing US intervention in the war on al-Qaeda.
He has also called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, blamed for killing thousands of Pakistanis in the past six years.
Sharif was born in 1949 into a wealthy family of industrialists in Lahore.
He was educated privately at English-language schools and secured a degree in law from the University of Punjab before joining his father’s steel company.
The family suffered hugely when Pakistan’s centre-left prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalised private industry in the 1970s and as the elder son, Sharif was quickly dispatched into politics.
Under the patronage of military ruler Zia-ul Haq he became first finance minister and then chief minister of Punjab – a post he held for five years from 1985 until he was elected prime minister in 1990.
He beat arch-rival Benazir Bhutto in the polls and served a three-year term until he was sacked on corruption charges and replaced by Bhutto.
In 1997, he won a landslide two-thirds majority for his PML-N and set about cementing his liberal economic policies.
In 1998, he won huge popularity when he made Pakistan a nuclear power, but his government buckled under tensions with the army, which in 1999 seized power.
Sharif was sentenced in a military court to life imprisonment for hijacking and terrorism, before being allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
He was allowed to return in 2007 and PML-N came second in the 2008 election, won by the PPP on a wave of sympathy following the assassination of its leader Bhutto.
Corruption, tax evasion and money-laundering allegations against the Sharifs, who have a huge family estate near Lahore, have never been proved in court.